Blues want to find new ways to win during Stanley Cup defense

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season begins with Wednesday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals when the Blues raise their 2019 Stanley Cup banner. Coverage begins at 6:30p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Ryan O’Reilly walked into the room where his trophy bounty from the 2018-19 NHL season was being held and stopped to process the moment. A year ago at the time he was a member of a Buffalo Sabres team that lost so frequently he told the media the season had caused him to question his love of hockey.

Now there he stood eyeing his trophy haul — Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy, Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, Selke Trophy — from the past season and couldn’t help but say to himself, “Pretty good year.”

The St. Louis Blues’ summer of celebrating comes to an end Wednesday night when they raise their Stanley Cup banner to the rafters of Enterprise Center ahead of their opening night matchup against the 2018 champion Washington Capitals (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN; live stream).

The parades are over. The celebratory singing of “Gloria” has come to an end (for now). The beverage intake has gone from various alcohols to protein shakes. The rings have been handed out. And it’s time to go through the grind all over again.

“I think [the banner raising is] the last reflection before you start the journey again to the next one,” O’Reilly told NBC Sports. “Not changing a lot on our team, having a lot of the same guys, looking up [at the banner], it’s going to be cool. It’s going to be an electric night. 

“Once it’s up, it’s back to work to do it again. I’m excited for that. The best part of the journey is playing the game and being together as a group.”

One year before the Blues won the first Cup title in franchise history, Vladimir Tarasenko watched as his best friend, Dmitry Orlov, celebrated the Capitals’ championship win back home in Russia, along with fellow countrymen Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Tarasenko wanted to experience that for himself after years of disappointment in St. Louis and was inspired by what the Capitals had done.

“It shows if you follow your goal you can make it happen,” said Tarasenko.

Now that they’re champions and coming off the short summer that comes with that achievement, the Blues realize they will have a target on their backs. The roster will be just about the same as it was that glorious night in Boston, outside of Patrick Maroon and Joel Edmundson. That’s one reason why O’Reilly and Tarasenko feel they can repeat, something only the Pittsburgh Penguins have been able to achieve in the last two decades.

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EAST / WEST / STANLEY CUP]

“It’s never easy because every team is gunning for you,” O’Reilly said. “I think a good lesson for us, and we’ve talked about it with guys, is that we’re not going to do it the same way. We’re going to have to do it a completely different way; still keep the staples and the things we learned throughout last year, but we’re going to have to find a new way. We’re going to have to come out in games and jump on them right away, we can’t wait a bit until we find it. We have to be more aggressive in situations. There’s going to be that adjustment, too, of us finding new ways to have success.”

The way the 2018-19 Blues found success is something no team wants to repeat, of course. Crapping the bed in the first few months of the season, firing your coach in November, and finding yourself 31st in a league of 31 teams in early January, and turning to an unknown goalie isn’t a recommended approach if you have Stanley Cup dreams.

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So what challenges lie ahead for the Blues, aside from the usual injuries and cliche’d “Stanley Cup hangover”? Getting your opponent’s best, for one.

“Every team’s going to play against you a little bit differently because you’re Stanley Cup champions and everybody wants to prove that they can beat the Stanley Cup champion when they have the chance to do that,” Ovechkin told NBC Sports.

For some teams, they can start to feel the effects of a short summer and the compact schedule.

“I don’t know if it was so much the start but once the heaviness of the season starts to set in in December, January that’s when reality sets in, that’s when those dog days of the year are tough, when teams start to feel the schedule a little bit and some teams fall off,” said Jonathan Toews, whose Chicago Blackhawks had to defend three Cup titles. “That’s a time when you run on fumes a little bit and you’ve got to catch yourself and say Hey, we’ve got to do our job, we’ve got to stay with it.”

The first half schedule for the Blues isn’t too bad, but following their January bye week and the NHL All-Star Break, which St. Louis is hosting, that’s when it gets tough. 

In February, the Blues are playing practically every other night with 15 games in 29 days, including six away from home, four of which come against Central Division opponents. In a division that is promising once again to be highly competitive, those will be vital points on the line during a grinding portion of the schedule.

All the Blues can do is try to best prepare themselves for another 82-game slog towards the playoffs. It will be a learning experience no matter how this season ends for them.

“I guess once you’ve been through it once you definitely figure out what you could’ve done better the next time around,” said Toews. “Every situation is different depending on how many guys you lost in the offseason. The bottom line is you want to get back to the playoffs, you don’t want do make excuses. It’s always nice to acknowledge what the difficulties actually are so you can find ways to deal with it.”

It remains to be seen if Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” will return as the Blues’ post-win anthem, or if the shelf that held pucks from their 61 wins will be back, empty and ready to be filled again. Those are memories from last season and the time has called for the page to be turned. 

While the roster is nearly the same, and head coach Craig Berube no longer has “interim” attached to his title, the Blues are ready to go again. Just drop the puck.

“It’s funny, the best thing about the whole winning the Stanley Cup was playing the games,” said O’Reilly. “Those were super intense games, just so much fun. No one’s out there thinking I’ve gotta do this, I’ve gotta do that, you’re just doing it. That’s something I crave again, being in that situation and having those amazing opportunities to do great things. That’s what excites me. 

“For me, it was kind of an easy transition. It’s our Cup and we’re going to keep it. It goes in a case and we’re going to get it again at the end of it. I can’t wait to play in the games and compete for it again.”

Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN with a special 90-minute edition of NHL Live, as host Kathryn Tappen, analysts Keith Jones and Patrick Sharp, and NHL insider Bob McKenzie preview the evening’s doubleheader and the upcoming 2019-20 season. Jeremy Roenick will be on-site in St. Louis to capture the scene outside Enterprise Center prior to the raising of the Blues’ first-ever Stanley Cup championship banner.

Mike Emrick, who returns for his 15th season as NBC Sports’ lead NHL play-by-play commentator, Eddie Olczyk and Brian Boucher will call Capitals-Blues from Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo.

MORE:
2019-20 NHL Power Rankings
PHT’s 2019-20 season previews
• 2019 NHL free agency tracker
NHL on NBC television schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

‘Wild’ NHL playoffs move into next stage with final 16 teams

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Derek Stepan gave some words of advice to his Arizona Coyotes teammates not used to the bright lights of playoff hockey.

”It’s the best time of the year to be playing,” he said.

The time of year is different than usual, but the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs haven’t lost any of their luster or penchant for surprises.

After a qualifying round full of upsets, overtime heroics and comebacks, the traditional first round that starts Tuesday with 16 teams left is primed to feature even more entertainment and unpredictability.

”It’s wild,” said Barry Trotz, whose New York Islanders will next face the Washington Capitals he coached to the title in 2018.

”It’s made for TV, really. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We knew that there was going to be some strange things happen in this strange, unusual time and format. But it’s captivating.”

The Chicago Blackhawks that ranked 23rd out of 31 teams in the regular season are still playing, along with the Montreal Canadiens, who were 24th and not given much hope of moving on.

Chicago has a tough task against the Western Conference No. 1 seed Vegas, and Carey Price‘s Canadiens face the Philadelphia Flyers that earned top billing in the East by going 3-0 against Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington.

”It was a tall task to get that No. 1 seed and we did it,” Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. ”We came in here and have been strictly business. I think for us to go out there and get three big wins in a row and get that No. 1 seed is huge for us.”

In a very 2020 turn of events, the Bruins that won the Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season team went winless since the restart and now must take on the Carolina Hurricanes that swept their way to this point. It’s a rematch of the 2019 East final but with Carolina looking more prepared for this showdown.

”They swept us last year, which definitely is going to be good opportunity for us to kind of give back what they gave us last year,” Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter said.

The Hurricanes, Islanders and Golden Knights look scary, the Lightning could be without top players Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman for at least the start of their series, and the Bruins and Blues that met in last year’s Cup Final haven’t recaptured the dominance they showed until the season was halted in March and combined to go 0-6.

”It doesn’t matter what seed you’re in because you’ve got to beat every team anyways if you want to advance,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. ”It’s over now and start real hockey.”

Half of the remaining field has been playing real hockey for more than a week now. After knocking off the Nashville Predators, captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson said the Coyotes are ”up for the challenge” of taking on the Colorado Avalanche. The Canucks and Flames should also be feeling good after emotional series victories, though Vancouver must face an angry St. Louis bunch that blew leads in all three games.

”We’re not playing aggressive enough in my opinion,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. ”Getting the real thing going here will be important, for sure.”

It’s all best-of-seven until the Stanley Cup is handed out in late September or early October, though the prospect of playing in quarantined bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton could change the psychological dynamic of the playoffs.

”It’s one of those years it’s easier once you’re down to say, ‘Well, I do miss my kids, it’s not our year,”’ Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”You can sort of have that in the back of your mind and certainly some players are going to go through it, and that’s why I feel that maybe some series will be closed out quicker than previous years.”

Only one qualifying round series went to a deciding Game 5: Columbus-Toronto, which also featured two shutouts and each team erasing a 3-0 deficit and winning in overtime. Over nine days, 44 games showed why the league and NHL Players’ Association worked hard to resume the season, and that was just the start of summer hockey madness.

”I’m sure it’ll continue,” Flames coach Geoff Ward said. ”Everybody’s healthy and there’s been extreme parity, but all the teams are playing extremely, extremely hard and that makes for whoever you play a very tough out and a very tough opponent. And I think as these playoffs go on, you’re just going to see more of the same.”

NHL Draft Lottery: No. 1 pick to be awarded Monday night

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The No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft will be announced Monday night during Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream)

All eight teams that were eliminated in the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round are eligible and each have a 12.5% chance of winning the No. 1 pick. Rimouski forward Alexis Lafreniere is expected to be chosen with the first overall selection.

Phase 1 of the draft lottery was held in June and won by a team involved in the NHL’s Return to Play. That means that one of the Rangers, Predators, Panthers, Wild, Penguins, Jets, Oilers, or Maple Leafs will pick first when the draft is held Oct. 9-10, 2020.

According to the NHL, since the 1995 draft, no team has held the No. 1 pick finishing better than 26th in the standings.

Here’s a look at the order of the first 15 picks:

ROUND 1 ORDER
1. Placeholder team
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Ottawa Senators (via San Jose)
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Buffalo Sabres
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9. Placeholder team
10. Placeholder team
11. Placeholder team
12. Placeholder team
13. Placeholder team
14. Placeholder team
15. Placeholder team

The seven losing teams from the First Round who do not win the No. 1 pick will fill out spots 9-15 by reverse order of their regular season points percentages. The remaining 16 Round 1 draft picks will be determined by the results of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

WHAT: 2020 NHL Draft Lottery – Phase 2
WHEN: Monday, August 10, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the draft lottery stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

The prospects

Lafreniere will be the No. 1 pick. That’s been settled. After that? It could go a lot of different ways. Quinton Byfield (Sudbury – C- OHL), Tim Stutzle (Adler Mannheim – C/LW – DEL), Lucas Raymond (Frolunda – LW/C – SHL), Jamie Drysdale (Erie – D – OHL), Marco Rossi (Ottawa – C – OHL), Cole Perfetti (Saginaw – C – OHL), Jake Sanderson (D – USNTDP) are among the top prospects expected to be selected early.

Check out Ryan Wagman’s midseason mock draft to further educate yourself on these players.

MORE:
Top NHL Draft Lottery memories

Hockey Hall of Fame postpones 2020 induction

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The Hockey Hall of Fame has postponed its 2020 induction because of the pandemic. The ceremony was to have taken place Nov. 16 in Toronto.

The 2020 class was announced in June and featured forward Jarome Iginla, winger Marian Hossa, defensemen Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson, Canadian women’s goaltender Kim St. Pierre and longtime general manager Ken Holland.

The Hall said Monday it will discuss rescheduling plans on Oct. 29. Chairman Lanny McDonald said the most likely scenario is to have the ceremony in November 2021, either by waiving the 2021 election or combining the 2020 and 2021 classes. He said a virtual induction ceremony was ruled out.

NHL reports second straight week of zero positive COVID-19 tests

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For the second week in a row the NHL has announced that it had zero positive COVID-19 tests during the Phase 4 portion of its return to play.

The league resumed the 2019-20 season and playoffs in late July with 24 teams playing within two hub cities (Toronto and Edmonton).

Since the participating teams entered their respective bubbles on July 25 they have reported zero positive tests during that time.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The league announced on Monday that it conducted 7,245 tests between August 2 and August 8. Previously the league reported 43 positive tests during the Phase 2 portion of the return (small group workouts at team facilities) and two positive tests during the first week of Phase 3 (return to training camp). But since then the league has reported zero positive tests through the remainder of training camps and, to this point, during the return to play in the hub cities.

The NHL just completed the Qualifying Round and Round-Robin portion of its return to play and will begin the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Tuesday afternoon in Toronto and Edmonton.

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.